Networking the Way to Success: Online Social Networks for Workplace and Competitive Advantage

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Today, complex human resources challenges face companies large and small, and most of these have negative impacts on employee and company communications. The advent of globalization and the prevalence of mergers and acquisitions have made it harder than ever to ensure employees in disparate locations have a consistent work experience and live through a unified corporate culture. Talent pools are shrinking, turnover is high, brand is increasingly paramount, and recruiting costs are growing. Yet one of the most interesting and potent resources for addressing these issues remains a relative mystery to most human resources leaders. Online social networking may be the most powerful solution not yet built into the corporate plan.

The Advent of Social Networking

In the last few years, online social networks like Facebook and MySpace, along with professional networking sites like LinkedIn, have exploded in popularity, with an estimated aggregate total of more than 170 million subscribers. New social media tools are cropping up every day. While many employers view social networking as a threat to productivity and block access to popular sites, some visionary employers have figured out how to leverage powerful social media tools and online communities for efficiencies and competitive advantage.

Social networks are an important workplace consideration for keeping up with employee demands and communication preferences, as well as for maintaining innovation and competitive advantage. Some early adopters are fighting turnover, increasing engagement, affinity and retention, and recruiting passive, retiree, and boomerang talent through the use of social networks. Others are facilitating knowledge transfer and collaborative processes through company social networks, while simultaneously driving new business development.

The possibilities for leveraging social media tools to broad success are enormous. Most early acting companies begin social media strategy consideration through the marketing department. Others evaluate it from the standpoint of corporate communications, updating Intranet (knowledge center) strategies by adding social features to existing processes. A select, innovative few are embracing a new approach to human resources strategy that uses online social networking to bridge internal and external communications and tackle pressing recruitment and retention concerns. We don't know yet what the optimal strategy looks like, but why wait for that to try something with so much power and promise?

Challenge and Response

Let's review the statistics. More than seventy-five percent of 400 human resource executives from 40 countries surveyed recently by the IBM Institute for Business Value and the Economist Intelligence Unit (1) said they are concerned about their ability to attract, retain and develop future leaders. In other studies, as many as four out of five companies express worry that they will not have the talent they need to fuel their businesses in the coming years. Despite the current economic downturn in the United States, human resources executives are bracing for a looming talent crunch that is widespread, global and has already become apparent in the IT, scientific and technical sectors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2014 the number of U.S. employees ages 55 to 64 is expected to grow by 42 percent and the percentage of workers over 65 is expected to increase 74 percent. Overall, the American workforce is aging, and many younger entrants to the workforce are not developing the skills they need to fill key roles opened up by the impending shortages. At the same time, human resources leaders in many industries are reporting spikes in voluntary turnover, as young workers are markedly less likely to stay in their jobs than in the past. The average college educated worker in the United States will hold 10 or more jobs between the ages of 18 and 40. …